Louie Gohmert is a busy man. Since Sunday morning, when the Texas congressman went on Fox and Friends Weekend and told Tucker Carlson that he was gunning to be speaker of the House, he’s been on a whistle-stop media tour. And while the Texan with a gleaming pate and a thick drawl might not yet be a household name, he has a cadre of loyal and devoted fans among the conservative grassroots.
In this case, that means precious little; the CPAC Straw Poll doesn’t pick the next leader of the House of Representatives. Nonetheless, Gohmert and his boosters are working overtime for House Speaker John Boehner’s ouster. And they stand to benefit from those efforts—even if (when) things don’t play out according to their plans.
“I had said now for a long time that I think we need a new leader, somebody with a bold, dynamic vision,” said Sean Hannity on his radio show Monday afternoon, talking with Gohmert about Speaker Boehner’s tenure. “I don’t see him as the guy.”
Gohmert, never coy, seemed happy to vent.
“It’s like a dictatorship,” he said. “Nobody becomes a chairman, gets a committee, if he doesn’t want it.”
Gohmert isn’t the first to try to topple Boehner. A small cadre of conservative House members snagged headlines two years ago when they made noise about pushing the House speaker out of his job. Of course, they failed miserably. Only 12 Republicans voted against Boehner, and the effort was an embarrassment to many of those involved.
This time, though, Boehner’s foes hope it will be different. On the one hand, they have a steeper climb; in 2013, only 17 Republicans needed to defect to keep the speaker from immediately getting re-elected. But because Republicans grew their House majority in the 2014 midterm elections, it will now take at least 29 Republican defections to block Boehner’s re-election. On the other hand, conservative activists say that this time they have come prepared; they’ve been planning to challenge Boehner since long before the November elections. Drew Ryun, the political director for the conservative Madison Project, said his group had a fairly simple vetting process for deciding which midterm candidates to endorse:
“There was really only one reason we endorsed in a lot of races, and that was how people answered on whether they would vote for or against John Boehner,” he said. “So this was something that, frankly, we’ve been working on for well over a year.”
Things started hopping a few weeks ago, according to conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace. He said the CRomnibus deal to fund the federal government was the last straw for many conservatives.
“This was not done fly by night,” he said. “This has been game-planned out, really, almost from the day after the CRomnibus vote.”
Deace learned about activists’ efforts three weeks ago. At the time, he thought they had a 10-percent chance of succeeding. Now, he gives them a 30-percent shot. Anger over the CRomnibus deal––which passed the House thanks to help from congressional Democrats and last-minute lobbying from the president––was a significant factor for many on the right, but they say momentum has built since then.
Deace said the House leadership’s defense of Rep. Steve Scalise also disgusted some conservatives. Scalise, the new House majority whip, confessed last week to addressing a white supremacist conference in 2002. Tea Partiers argued that one of their own would never have received the protection that Scalise got from Boehner. The perceived double standard “reinforced everybody’s disgust,” Deace said.
“I think the Steve Scalise situation was manna from heaven,” he continued. “I think that was a political gift. When you’re on the right side and you have momentum, you just get breaks like that.”
That said, Gohmert and his allies aren’t without critics. Rep. Morgan Griffith, a Virginia Republican, released a statement on Monday saying he would have taken their efforts seriously if someone had challenged Boehner at the Republicans’ Nov. 13th conference meeting where the speaker was renominated without contest.
“In order to be a leader of the U.S. House of Representatives or, for that matter, any legislative body, one must have a plan for leadership,” he said. “While I do not completely agree with John Boehner’s leadership style or plan, at least he has one.”
It’s unlikely that Boehner is going anywhere. The Washington Post has been keeping a whip count for the speaker vote, and it doesn’t look great for Team Gohmert. By that count, there are currently 14 Republicans who are very likely to vote against Boehner. That number needs to double by Tuesday if conservatives have any shot at ousting him. Realistically, it’s not going to happen.
But Boehner’s adversaries will still see an upside; the vote gives them a chance to fire up activists and grow their email lists. Deace adds that it also will give members a chance to show their true colors.
And what’s the worst that could happen?
“He’s already the best speaker the Democrats have already had,” said Deace. “To me, there’s nothing to really lose here.”
Plus, as Gohmert told Hannity, it might make for good TV.
“I betcha this is going to be the most-watched voting for speaker in the history of C-SPAN,” Gohmert said.